climate change, climate denier, computer models, Covid, D/S/Cs, distrust of science, Fauci, global warming, Make Twain, politicians, Science, science denier, Tessa Koumoundouros, the science is settled, there is a scientific consensus, top men, vaccines, Young Frankenstein
Can’t see the forest for the trees.
They’re too close to the problem.
Seeing a splinter in your neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in your own.
Distrust of science is a massive problem. In our current environment, it’s directly leading to people’s deaths. Much of the misinformation we face is intentional and organized, and even worse, research has found lies seem to spread faster online and are often stickier than the truth.
“A lie can travel around the world before the truth can get its pants on.”
So psychologist Aviva Philipp-Muller, now at Simon Fraser University, and colleagues dug into the scientific literature on persuasion and communication, to try and outline an up-to-date and cohesive overview on how to tackle this wicked problem.
One of the biggest myths about communicating science is that merely presenting people with knowledge will lead to them acting accordingly with logic. This is known as the information deficit model, and the mode of communication we’re using here, but between the global pandemic and climate crisis we now have countless examples of how this often doesn’t work.
‘Vaccinations used to be a standard thing that everyone accepted,’ says Ohio State psychologist Richard Petty. ‘But there have been a few developments in recent years that have made it easier to persuade people against the scientific consensus on vaccinations and other issues.’
Hmmmm. Like vaccines not actually being vaccines in that they confer no immunity, nor do they prevent disease transmission, and scientists, and politicians, serially lying about them? Those kinds of developments?
For starters, industries are degrading trust in science by hijacking scientific credentials, using ‘sciency’ sounding claims to bolster their clout for profits; pharmaceutical companies have most certainly given us plenty of reasons not to trust them. What’s more, science doesn’t always get things right, and large factions of the media are stoking sentiments against “elitist” experts and bolstering anti-science views.
Where has the media ever done that, other than parroting precisely what politicians and pharmaceutical companies tell them?
All this doubt, conflict, and information overload are eroding people’s trust in scientists, and those of us often responsible for conveying scientific information to the public, like the media and government officials, are fairing even worse on the trust scales.
Let’s see what the problem really is:
1. Distrust in the information source
As mentioned above, lack of trust in the information source comes up time and time again as one of the key reasons people don’t accept scientific information.
Legitimate and robust scientific debate can also confuse people who are not familiar with the scientific process, further damaging trust when it spills into the public domain.
To combat these trust issues the researchers suggest highlighting the communal nature of science and emphasizing the wider, prosocial goals of research. Honestly acknowledging other people’s positions and any drawbacks in your own, rather than brushing them away, can also go a long way to better establishing trust, the team explains.
Perhaps never claiming “there is a consensus,” or “the science is settled, so shut up you denier,” might help? Perhaps also actually teaching science, math, reading and writing instead of CRT might be useful?
2. Tribal loyalty
The way our thinking is wired as an obligatorily social species makes us very vulnerable to sometimes blindly believing those we identify with as part of our own cultural group – no matter how much education we have had. This phenomenon is called cultural cognition.
Oh sure. I often think: “that directly contradicts my identity as a white male, so I must disregard it.”
Political polarization and social media have only enhanced this. For example, conservatives are more likely to believe scientists that appear on Fox News, and liberals are more likely to trust those on CNN.
I’m more likely to believe scientists that, unlike Fauci, aren’t dimwitted, compromised, corrupt liars.
To combat this we need to find common ground, create information that’s framed for specific target audiences, and collaborate with communities holding anti-science views, including people traditionally marginalized by science.
Right. Come up with “messaging” that can fool “specific target audiences.” And who, exactly, has been “traditionally marginalized by science”? Really stupid people?
3. Information goes against personal beliefs
‘Scientific information can be difficult to swallow, and many individuals would sooner reject the evidence than accept information that suggests they might have been wrong,’ the team wrote in their paper. ‘This inclination is wholly understandable, and scientists should be poised to empathize.’
Perhaps stop making “scientific” pronouncements that purport to override morality, conscience and faith might help? Science does occupy a different domain than religion, though they are not mutually exclusive. Belief in God does not preclude confidence in a vaccine that actually provides immunity and prevents disease transmission and doesn’t kill people with multiple, known side effects. Nor does it prevent confidence in competent surgeons and other medical practitioners.
4. Information is not being presented in the right learning style
This problem is the most straightforward of the four bases – a simple mismatch in how information is being presented and the style best suited to the receiver. This includes things like preferring abstract compared to concrete information, or being promotion or prevention focused.
Here, Philipp-Muller and team suggest making use of some of the same tactics that anti-science forces have been using. For example, like the technology and advertising industry, researchers should be using metadata to better target messaging based on people’s profiles according to personal online habits.
Yow. How about just telling the truth, and presenting things in a rational, non-politically biased way?
As much as we pride ourselves on being logical beings, in reality, we humans are animals with messy minds that are just as governed by our social alliances, emotions, and instincts as our logic. Those of us involved with science, whether as supporters or practitioners, must understand and account for this.
Final Thoughts: While I have no doubt Koumoundouros is sincerely trying to address a real problem, she’s missing the real issues.
Americans have been exposed to an enormous amount of political deception clothed in the language of science. In the 70s we were told “science” was absolutely certain we’d face extinction through an ice age in ten years if we didn’t give D/C/S all the money and power they wanted. That didn’t pan out, so we’ve been told every year or so we had ten years before extinction from global warming, and all manner of “science” has been trotted out to “prove” it, such as the infamous and completely false “hockey stick” graph. We were assured there was a “scientific consensus.” We have been told large numbers of “scientists” signed letters to that effect, only to later learn most of those “scientists” had no actual training in or knowledge of climatology. We were told “the science is settled.” We were told computer models modeled by, as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, was told, “top men,” were infallible.
Then they all failed–garbage in; garbage out–and there hasn’t been any measurable global warming for decades, so the “scientific global warming consensus” changed to “climate change,” and when Americans became even more skeptical, it was explained to them: “shut up you climate deniers.”
And there is no condition or lack of one that does not prove “climate change.” Hot weather? Climate change. Cold weather? Climate change. Hurricanes? Climate change. No hurricanes? Climate change. Donald Trump? Climate change. No Donald Trump? Climate change. Gavin Newsom hair? Climate change. Bad hair day? Climate change.
Then came the Corona Virus, and we were told it was caused by bats, or Pangolins in a wet market in China, and it could not possibly have come from a military research lab in Wuhan, China, because shut up you racist climate deniers. And we were told there was no gain of function research going on there, and the United States had nothing to do with any gain of function research that is absolutely not going on there. Then we learned our NIH and/or CDC, signed off on by Fauci, had indeed been funding gain of function research at the Wuhan lab where absolutely none has been going on and golly, it now looks like the virus did escape from that Chinese lab, and China—and our own government and “scientists” have been lying to us all along! Who coulda thunk it?
And we were told masks were useless, then we were told they were mandatory, and you should wear two or three of them at once, unless of course you’re Anthony Fauci at a baseball game or Gavin Newsom at an obscenely expensive French restaurant. And we were told social distancing was essential, six feet being mandatory, because viruses can only travel precisely six feet and no further. Little clear plastic Plexiglas shields were erected at check out counters, because they radiate an invisible force field that prevents viruses from going over or around them. And for our protection, we were prevented from going to church, and even arrested for being alone on a beach, or on the ocean. And our military was depleted for refusing to take the vaccine, and people’s lives and businesses were ruined because shut up you vax deniers! Imagine how people felt when they learned it was all not only unnecessary, but done on purpose by people who knew it was unnecessary, and knew it was a lie.
Now we’re told if we don’t give D/S/Cs all the money and power they want, and surrender our liberty, the planet is doomed—you guessed it—in ten years! There’s a scientific consensus! The science is settled! Shut up you climate deniers!
So I have an idea: perhaps if scientists merely told us the truth, quit playing politics, and the results they claimed were the results they actually produced and were reproducible, that just might help.